An Eastside Escape
After work on Friday, as I slogged my way up Tiger Mountain in the rain, something felt off. It was still light out, and would be for many hours, but it seemed weirdly dark. It turns out my senses were correct – it was the darkest June day since 2014. This spring has delivered abundant precipitation and clouds. It seems that most mountain people have just given up, defeated. But I knew that the persistent rains meant the Eastside flowers would have an extended season, a silver lining. So Kelly and I made plans to escape to the sun of the Eastern Cascades.
We drove over Saturday evening after dinner to hike Manastash Ridge. This is an area of biking and hiking trails on the outskirts of Ellensburg. Previously, I would have never seen a little hike in Ellensburg as a destination, but watching Ethan Lockwood’s Strava filled with wildflowers all spring convinced me to check it out.
The trails climb pretty steeply through the green grassy hillsides. The flowers were definitely fading down low, but were holding strong near the top. After 1500 ft. of gain, we topped out on the windy ridge. Clouds rolled over the crest of the mighty Stuart Range and rain squalls loomed over Mission Ridge and the tablelands to the north. Ellensburg stretched beneath us, beautiful and green.
It was a struggle to capture photos up high because of the strong winds and low light – I had to balance shutter speed with the continuous movement of the flowers and grasses.
We descended a different trail that went through an absolutely gorgeous forest of Ponderosa Pines. I guess the elevation and northern aspect provide just barely enough protection for a localized forest here. In the shade of the forest, the flowers were absolutely popping off! It was one of the densest concentration of wildflowers I have ever seen: paintbrush, lupines, balsamroots, and phlox, just to name a few.
Down lower, we watched the clouds glow over the Cascades as we jogged back to the car.
It was a spectacular evening, and also a very relaxed one. Sometimes, bigger is not better. Little jaunts like this are food for the soul.
The next morning, we drove up to Blewett Pass to hike the Tronsen Ridge trail. There are three main access points from Highway 97: the lower northern trailhead, Five Mile Road, and Tronsen Meadow near Blewett Pass itself. I had read that the Five Mile Road was the most enjoyable and my friend Nick had run it the weekend before. We parked at the base of the road (which we probably could have driven with a little bit of spice, but wanted the extra mileage) and enjoyed the gentle 3 mile walk up to Tronsen Ridge. We both felt it was the one of the most scenic road walks we have ever done with abundant wildflowers and views.
Tronsen Ridge is a rolling ridge trail with a perfect mix of lush green meadows, pine forests, and views to both sides. It has been recently cleared, likely by bikers, and featured not a single blowdown! The flowers up here were just peaking.
We took the trail southwards towards Blewett Pass, gradually gaining elevation. We passed through some of the healthiest looking Eastside forests I have seen – stately Ponderosa Pines spaced widely, with no deadfall and just green grass and flowers between.
At about 9 miles, we reached the road that goes up Tronsen from the Ellensburg side. This is a burn zone, so the flowers were different. We talked to some bikers here, who said the spring near the Mt. Lillian Trailhead was still flowing, so we headed that way.
The spring was cold and pure, emanating from the ground just a few feet away. It is a special moment each year when I drink my first spring water, for it signals the beginning of the summer alpine season! Here, Kelly continued on down towards Tronsen Meadow at Blewett Pass, while I prepared to return the way I came and would pick her up on the drive back.
My legs had felt stiff and tired, but they started to loosen up as I trotted back the way I came. Shadows shifted as the clouds floated overhead and a breeze drifted through. I felt deeply relaxed and happy in the moment.
This was a super fun and relaxing weekend with Kelly! In the past, I used to overlook zones like Ellensburg and Blewett Pass, thinking they were not very impressive or not very alpine. But I am learning more and more to appreciate the variety of terrain and recognize that everywhere and everything has its seasons. This weekend looks to finally be summer like and warm, so a return to the alpine might be in store. But this Eastside Escape was perfect at the time.
- There are many trails up Manastash. The ones further west go through the trees, which hold better flowers this late in the spring.
- Five Mile Road was probably drivable for our Outback. There were only a few rough spots, and they’re in the first half mile. But it was also an enjoyable hike in itself.
- The Mt. Lillian trail was supposedly covered in blowdowns, so we did not continue up Lillian. Burn zones naturally have a lot of blowdowns if the bikers and ORV folk have not cleared them.